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Nonmedical voluntary benefits help employers attract and retain talent

Nonmedical voluntary benefits help employers attract and retain talent

Offering voluntary benefits that support employees’ financial stature, security and lifestyle is seen as a way to set companies apart and help with talent attraction and retention.

Supplemental health coverage, such as dental, vision, accident and critical illness insurance, tends to have the highest participation rates among voluntary products, but other options are quickly gaining popularity, said Lori Black, national voluntary benefit practice leader at Buck Consultants L.L.C. in Philadelphia.

Among the most well-liked nonmedical voluntary benefits are life, auto and home insurance, identity theft protection and legal services, Ms. Black said.

“The reason employers are starting to introduce more of these programs is (because) people want choice to be able to design programs that best fit their individual needs,” she said.

That’s the case at Xerox Corp., said Peter Dowd, Rochester, New York-based vice president of global total compensation and benefits. Mr. Dowd said the company has been moving toward a “consumer-driven approach” to benefits for about three years.

Offering an array of benefits has a positive effect on attraction and retention of workers because employees appreciate the ability to get coverage at a significant discount, Mr. Dowd said.

“For an individual to go out in the market on their own to try and find these benefits, they would pay significantly more and may have other restrictions,” such as eligibility constraints, “that don’t apply to the group,” he said.

Xerox offers employees three medical voluntary benefit options plus legal services as payroll deductions. And options such as pet, auto and home insurance are offered through a discount program, he said.

“Discounts on purchasing — whether it’s automobiles, appliances, computers and so on — that’s another growing area of popularity because it’s very simple in a lot of ways for a company to offer that, and it provides a nice benefit to the employees,” Mr. Dowd said.

Deciding which benefits to offer can be an involved process, experts say.

Ms. Black said it’s important to acknowledge the average age, salary and tenure of employees, as well as any other benefit offerings that are in place.

For example, she said, if an employee population doesn’t make enough money to cover their basic needs, focus on health and wealth products such as disability and life insurance. People with more disposable income, on the other hand, might be more likely to spend their discretionary dollars on security products, she said.

Insurers, consultants and employers have their own way of classifying available voluntary insurance products, but it typically comes down to four categories: Health, wealth, security, and personal/lifestyle products.

Identity theft, which fits into the security sector, is a product that’s becoming more popular due to recent large-scale data breaches and a greater awareness of the risk involved with sharing personal information electronically, said Colin Bradley, vice president of business development at Winston Benefits Inc. in Manasquan, New Jersey.

Still, it’s what Mr. Bradley calls a “5% program.” With nonmedical voluntary benefits, a participation rate around 5% is considered average, he said.

However, the longer a program is in place, the more popular it will become among employees, said Tim Easterwood, Troy, Michigan-based area president and practice leader for voluntary benefits consulting at Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. For that reason, Mr. Easterwood said he encourages employers to keep options “in the menu” even if they are not popular right away.

Insurers also can affect participation rates, especially in the case of auto and home insurance, Mr. Bradley said.

“Right now, there are a couple of vendors who have primarily been driving that market — the MetLifes, the Libertys, the Travelers of the world. Until you see some additional vendors push into that marketplace on a payroll-deductive basis, I don’t think you’re going to see a huge increase in interest,” Mr. Bradley said.

If Allstate Corp. and State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. began offering auto and home insurance products through employers, there would likely be an “increase in the volume of sales simply because those vendors already have a huge existing policyholder base,” he said.

Also, employers could see participation rate changes as baby boomers retire and young workers enter the workforce, according to findings from Towers Watson & Co.’s 2013 “Voluntary Benefits and Services Survey.”

The study, which incorporated feedback from more than 320 employee benefit professionals across a number of industries, stated that younger generations “by nature, are attracted to customized benefit packages.”

Mr. Dowd said Xerox had its newer employees in mind when it began about five years ago giving employees the option to purchase a week of vacation time through a payroll deduction.

Earlier in their careers, employees “may have time-off desires that are greater than the entitlement the company offers,” Mr. Dowd said. “While the employee is paying for it, it gives them that incremental time off that, at that time in their life, may be more important” than other options, such as life insurance.

“It’s definitely a popular benefit,” he said, adding that 5% to 10% of people take advantage of it. “It’s another way to give people some flexibility based on their own individual needs.”

Mr. Dowd said Xerox is constantly looking to see what’s available in the way of voluntary benefits.

“It’s kind of a combination of assessing what our people are taking advantage of as well as what is available in the marketplace,” he said, adding that it’s not the employee’s job to be the benefits expert.

And that’s a good thing, he said, considering “people tend to do more research when purchasing a flat-screen TV than they do when looking for and considering (health) care alternatives.”

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